The Vancouver Canucks extended head coach Travis Green last week. After four seasons with the team, he was rewarded with two more seasons with the club. The organization extending Green has prompted me to list the top five head coaches in franchise history.
5. Travis Green
Green became the head coach of the Canucks in 2017 after the team came off a season where they finished 29th in the league with 69 points. Over the next three seasons, the team improved while going through a rebuild. In Green’s first season behind the bench, the Canucks finished with 73 points and finished 27th in the league. In the 2018-19 season, they improved and finished with 81 points, which was good for 23rd in the league.
All this led to the 2019-20 season, where they finished with 78 points through 69 games in a shortened season. The 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs were the first time the Canucks made the postseason since the 2014-15 season. Under Green, the team beat the Minnesota Wild in four games in the play-in round and followed it up by upsetting the St. Louis Blues in six games. The following round, they fought back to force a Game 7 against the Vegas Golden Knights but lost. Green did a good job of coaching the Canucks throughout the run, even though the club had holes on defence and in their bottom-six.
The 2020-21 season was the worst under Green since his first year with the club. Most of the blame, though, doesn’t belong to the head coach as the Canucks were undermanned. The team lost four roster players in the offseason and struggled to replace them this season.
Green deserves some credit for the team’s success and improvement. He’s done a great job developing most of the Canucks’ young players who have joined the team with him as the head coach. Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Thatcher Demko, and Nils Hoglander have all become key players for the team’s future, and all have had great rookie seasons. With Vasili Podkolzin slated to join the club next season and the team’s top pick in the 2021 NHL Draft also potentially joining the roster in a few seasons, there is no better coach than Green to help them develop into NHL players.
Green is headed into his fifth season with the team, and if the young players on the club continue to develop, he could end up being ranked higher on this list in a few years.
4. Roger Neilson
Roger Neilson was an associate coach with the Canucks in 1981. In the 1981-82 season, he took over as the team’s interim head coach after then head coach Harry Neale was suspended for being involved in an altercation with a fan. Neilson coached the team in its final five games that season before helping lead the organization to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance.
After making quick work of the Calgary Flames (winning in three games) and the Los Angeles Kings (winning in five games), the Canucks took on the Chicago Blackhawks in the Clarence Campbell Conference Final. The series against Chicago included the most memorable moment in Neilson’s coaching career with Vancouver. Up 1-0 in the series, in Game 2, Neilson was fed up with the officiating in the game. In response to the poor officiating, the head coach put a white towel on a hockey stick, signalling his surrender, and was joined by his players.
Not only did Neilson’s actions rally his team and helped them win the following three games to move on to the Stanley Cup Final (SCF), but it also created a tradition that lives in Vancouver to this day, Towel Power. In 2011, the Canucks honoured Neilson with a statue outside of Rogers Arena. Despite the team’s Cinderella run, they were swept by the New York Islanders in the SCF.
After the 1982 SCF run, Neilson was promoted to head coach, while Neale was named general manager. The following season, the Canucks failed to find success in the 1982-83 season, as they were swept in the first round by the Flames. He was fired halfway through the 1983-84 season.
3. Marc Crawford
Before Marc Crawford joined the Canucks, he found success in the NHL elsewhere. He started his career with the Quebec Nordiques, where he won the Jack Adams Award in the 1994-95 season at 33 years of age, making him the youngest coach to win the award. The following season, the Nordiques moved to Colorado, and the Avalanche won the Stanley Cup. He remained with the club for two seasons before resigning after a first-round exit in the 1998 Playoffs. Before his next NHL coaching gig, he was the head coach of Team Canada at the 1998 Winter Olympics, where they finished fourth. He was questioned on his player selection in the semi-final shootout loss to the Czech Republic for not selecting Wayne Gretzky as a shooter. Canada finished fourth at the 1998 Winter Olympics.
Crawford joined the Canucks midway through the 1998-99 season. After missing the playoffs in his first two seasons as head coach, the Canucks made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the 2000-01 season but were swept by Crawford’s old team, the Avalanche, who were on their way to their franchise’s second Stanley Cup.
The team improved in each of Crawford’s first six seasons with the club. During this period, the Canucks saw the emergence of the West Coast Express line, which included captain Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Brendan Morrison. In the 2002-03 season, the team recorded a franchise-high 103 point season, which has now been surpassed three times.
The biggest disappointment during Crawford’s time in Vancouver is the lack of playoff success. The club only won one playoff series during his tenure, which came in the 2003 postseason against the Blues. After failing to make the playoffs for the first time since the 1990-2000 season, which was Crawfords’ first full season, he was fired by the franchise.
As for his legacy with the Canucks, Crawford has the second-most regular-season wins in franchise history as a coach with 246 wins in 529 games. He’s also tied for the second-best point percentage (P%) in franchise history with Pat Quinn with a .544 P%.
2. Pat Quinn
Before changing hockey in Vancouver forever, Quinn coached with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Los Angeles Kings. He signed a contract with the Canucks to become President and GM while he was still the coach of the Kings, which resulted in NHL President John Ziegler suspending him from coaching until the 1990-91 season. Quinn set the club up as President and GM, acquiring Kirk McLean and Greg Adams through a trade for Patrik Sundstrom and drafting Trevor Linden and Pavel Bure.
With his coaching ban lifted, he took over as head coach for the Canucks mid-way through the 1990-91 season. The team finished with a 9-13-4 record under Quinn before losing in six games in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the Kings. The following three seasons were the most successful under Quinn. In 1991-92, his first full season as head coach, the Canucks finished with 96 points. They advanced to the second round in the playoffs with a first-round win in seven games over the Winnipeg Jets but fell to the Edmonton Oilers. In the 1992-93 season, the club improved to 101 points but lost in the second round for a second season in a row, this time to the Kings.
Quinn’s third season as head coach may have been the best. Although the Canucks dropped in points, finishing with 85, they had a memorable Cinderella story, which saw the team make an SCF run for the second time in franchise history. The first round featured the Flames blowing a 3-1 series lead and the Canucks winning Game 7 in overtime thanks to a memorable goal from Bure.
Next, they beat the Dallas Stars in five games before defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games as well. The Canucks run came to a tragic end at the hands of the New York Rangers due to a 3-2 loss in Game 7. The Canucks once again showed tremendous heart under Quinn in the 1994 Stanley Cup Playoffs, as they came back from being down 3-1 series to force a Game 7 against the Rangers. The following season, Quinn decided to focus solely on his job as President and GM and gave up his head coach role before joining the Maple Leafs in the 1998-99 season due to a fallout with the team’s new ownership.
Despite only coaching the sixth-most games (280) with the Canucks, Quinn has the fourth most wins and is tied with Crawford for the second-best P% (.554). Additionally, he has the second-most playoff wins as a head coach at 31. In 2014, the Canucks inducted the legendary coach into the team’s Ring of Honour, becoming the fifth member to receive the honour.
1. Alain Vigneault
Alain Vigneault got his start with the Canucks’ organization as the head coach of the Manitoba Moose. He was previously an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators and a head coach with the Montreal Canadiens, where he was nominated for the Jack Adams Award in 1999-2000, ultimately losing to Blues head coach Joel Quenneville.
He was named the Canucks’ head coach before the 2006-07 season. The team finished with 105 points and made the post-season in Vigneault’s first season. The club won its first-round series against the Dallas Stars in seven games but were eliminated in the second round by the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Anaheim Ducks. He was once again nominated for the Jack Adams, this time winning the award. The 2007-08 season was the worst under Vigneault, as the Canucks missed the playoffs for the first and only time with him behind the bench.
The 2008-09 season marked the start of the Canucks’ five-year playoff run. They were Cup contenders in all five seasons. The 2009 and 2010 Stanley Cup playoff runs ended in a similar fashion, as the Blackhawks beat the Canucks in the second round in six games both years.
The 2010-11 season, remembered as the greatest season in franchise history, saw the team make another memorable run to the SCF. The Canucks finally beat the Blackhawks in seven games in the first round. They followed the first-round win up with a win over the Nashville Predators in six games. In the Western Conference Final, they beat the San Jose Sharks in five games, capturing the franchise’s third Conference championship. The run ended in another heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins. Nonetheless, the 2010-11 team set a few franchise records, including the most wins in a single season (54) and the most points recorded in a single season(117).
Although the team still had most of the same roster, the following two seasons were disappointing. In the 2011-12 season, the Canucks posted their second-best season in franchise history but suffered a disappointing first-round loss to the Kings in five games. The following season, they were swept in the first round by the Sharks. The disappointing seasons resulted in the Canucks firing Vigneault.
Vigneault had the most impressive run with the organization out of all the coaches who have been with the team. During his seven-year run with the Canucks, Vigneault owns four of the franchise’s top five seasons based on points (2010-11, 2011-12, 2006-07 & 2009-10). He also has the most wins with 313, the best P% at .632 and the most wins in the playoffs with 33. The Canucks also didn’t register a below .500 P% season with him behind the bench in any of his seasons.
Vigneault went on to coach the Rangers to the 2014 SCF losing to the Kings. In 2019, he joined the Flyers as their head coach and was nominated for the Jack Adams Award for the third time in his career.
Canucks Coaching Has Improved
Four of the top five coaches were with the Canucks after 1990, which shows how well the team has done at hiring a bench boss over the years. The club’s coaching has consistently improved from Quinn helping build a winning team and increasing fan interest in the ’90s to Crawford stringing together multiple impressive seasons with the West Coast Express to Vigneault leading the way for the best team in franchise history to Green creating a potential Cup contending team now. Green will have an opportunity to solidify himself in a higher spot on this list if he can continue the improvement the team had before this season.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.